Review of “Shogun” Episode 1 “Anjin”: An Enthralling Series Premiere

Rinku Kumar
12 Min Read

(Shogun) intricate politics of feudalism. a ship lost at sea with most of its crew members dying of malnutrition, scurvy, or other diseases. a country on the verge of conflict. Unusual traditions and dangerous meetings as civilizations collide like waves against a rock. A new era dawning and an end to an old one. Shogun is an instant hit because of the upheaval in feudal Japan, its Catholic Portuguese allies, the newly arrived English and Dutch protestants, and some of the best acting, costume design, and cinematography I’ve seen in a long time. Shogun is breathtakingly beautiful, tragic, and gripping all at once.

Shogun
Image Credits:- Smithsonian | Shogun

Although I have started and read a little portion of James Clavell’s 1,152-page book, which serves as the basis for this new show, I have not finished reading it. This time, I want to read along as the episodes premiere on Hulu each week, instead of skipping the original source or concentrating on parallels between the original and the adaptation. This means that, in contrast to many of the other shows I cover, I will not be comparing this one to the novel in my review; that being said,

I will still try to read along and stay up. I can then speak to both without being biased toward the original, allowing me to evaluate this show on its own merits.Furthermore, a book that length is not something to read quickly (I also need to finish Three Body Problem soon). It is alright! It can be entertaining at times to be ignorant of the original source. For example, I have no doubt that if I had not watched the animated original Avatar, I would be enjoying the live-action version of the film more.

Nevertheless, I have promised to review every episode of this show, so the next post will only cover the series premiere “Anjin,” and I will follow up with a second review for that episode tomorrow. Following the viewing of Shogun’s debut episode,

I discovered that FX and Hulu had actually released the first two episodes at once. After that, I will be updating this blog every week with recaps and reviews. And the reason I am so enthusiastic about it is that, aside from you, Slow Horses, almost everything I have been covering lately has disappointed me so much that it seems refreshing to be this excited about a new series. Anyway, allow me to discuss…

Review of “Shogun” Episode 1

I will not rehash much of it. Let us first address the fundamentals. The Japanese word “angin” means “pilot,” and it alludes to John Blackthorne, a major character on the show played by Cosmo Jarvis. However, I believe it may have a dual meaning and also allude to Lord Yoshi Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), the other main character of the show who is attempting to lead Japan to a better future. As the series premiere draws to a close, the two men finally meet in person despite the overwhelming odds against them.

The episode opens with a title card stating that the year is 1600. This is helpful because I would much rather skip setup exposition and get straight to the action. The Portuguese, whose name I will learn how to spell without the use of spell check, have a prosperous trade relationship with Japan. Additionally, a sizable portion of Japan has become Christian, and numerous Catholic missionaries have been installed.

The creation of Shogun

The Dutch, of which Blackthorne is an Englishman employed, seem to be trying to locate Japan and start the process of taking it away from the Catholics. Protestant colonialists are eager to have a say in the matter. The Catholics have gotten all of the pie so far. In fact, it seems that the protestants are searching for the entire pie and want it. The sole issue? The journey was difficult. Along the voyage, nearly every man and several ships were lost.

There are only twelve left, including Blackthorne, who is now their de facto leader, when the Japanese find them, save them, and immediately put them in jail.

Image Credits:- Forbes | Shogun

It is interesting that both tribes regularly call each other “barbarians” or “savages,” and it makes sense: The sailors are untamed, rude, and dirty. Seppuku is one of the practices practiced by the Japanese. In this episode, at a gathering of Japan’s five regents, a young man named Tadayoshi, who works for Lord Toranaga, lashes out. He swears to kill himself and to halt his line, which includes killing his child, because he feels bad about what he done. Even though this is horrifying, it is hardly the worst event we witness in the series premiere (mostly because the baby’s death is not shown to us).

The worst scene features some of the most horrific and gory killings I have ever seen on television. A Catholic priest’s demands that the local lord, Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano), execute Blackthorne are met by the execution of another member of the crew—that is, a slow boiling to death in a massive cauldron. It is a gruesomely brutal method of murder.

However, it becomes rather evident that both cultures have aggressive, barbaric impulses, regardless of what each believes of the other. Blackthorne is employed by a colonialist nation that would soon rule over the whole planet. However, it is also indefensible to boil an innocent sailor to death.

The historical individuals that created “Shogun”

Yabushige wants the ship and its muskets and cannons all to himself, but an old man in the village who speaks a little Portuguese and can translate, if clumsily, with Blackthorne, is also a spy for Lord Toranaga. When word gets out that Toranaga is a prisoner in Osaka and must send his right-hand man, Toda Hiromatsu (Tokuma Nishioka),

to claim the prize for himself, and he decides to bring Blackthorne back with them. This is good, too, because a strong storm threatens to sink the ship, the crew, and everyone on board with it, but Blackthorne’s maritime experience saves the day.

Additionally, Blackthorne saves the life of his new nemesis, Nestor Carbonell’s Rodrigues, a Spanish agent for the Portuguese (albeit I had no idea that this was a Lost alum). After the man is thrown overboard, Blackthorne is adamant that they locate him once they reach land safely. They do, at the foot of a cliff that rises sharply out of the turbulent ocean.

When Yabushige rejects Blackthorne’s request to descend, Blackthorne gives him the rope and demands that the Japanese Lord descend on his own. A last-minute rope saves him from drowning, but not before he nearly dies and considers suicide (you were right all along, Sam Gamgee).

Image Crediits:- Smithsonian | Shogun

Rodrigues saved, Blackthorne is transferred to Osaka where he encounters Toranaga, at last. The great Japanese Lord—now beset upon on all sides by his jealous and ambitious rivals—thinks this new outsider may be able to help him, though we don’t learn how just yet.

I think the politics of this to be really interesting. It has a slight resemblance to the Netflix series Kingdom, which focused on Korean feudalism and zombies. If you have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it. The dead king is here, and everyone is fighting for control.

The drums of war are already banging, and Toranaga seems to be the only one with the honor and fortitude to oppose the formidable regent Ishido Kaznari (Takehiro Hira). But Toranaga’s chances of surviving are even worse than the Dutch and English sailors’ if four of the five regents that rule Japan are against him.

The Actual Background of FX’s “Shogun”

This feels like something you would see on HBO, and it is obvious that FX and Hulu are sparing no expense to craft one of the best-looking shows out there. But I am also happy with the script—so often overlooked in favor of big action and special effects—with its strong dialogue, rich world-building, and tight, tense pacing. I am deeply impressed so far and can not wait to see how this plays out.

As previously mentioned, I will be thinking about the second episode tomorrow and probably will discuss both in a video that I post on my YouTube channel at the same time. So if you want to talk about Shogun, be sure to follow me on this site and, while you are at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel. How did you feel about the debut of the new series? I am equally interested in the opinions of book readers. Even though I have not read very far, I can already tell that some things are changing, though nothing that truly disturbs me.

Change is necessary for adaptations, and thus far, everything feels very well-thought-out and natural. Tell me what you think about Facebook and Twitter.

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